By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 22, 2011 - First-year medical students here at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences rappelled down a 63-foot wall yesterday as part of their preparation for a two-week field training exercise where they will learn some of the basic combat skills required to provide battlefield medicine.
For some of the students, particularly the 70 percent of the class without prior military service, it will be their first experiences living and operating in the field, firing a weapon, navigating in an orienteering course and wearing chemical protective gear after a mock attack.
The exercise will run concurrently with Operation Bushmaster, a more advanced exercise that exposes fourth-year students to the challenges of delivering medical care in support of warfighting, peacekeeping and humanitarian-assistance operations.
The first-year students will play the role of patients for Bushmaster, giving them exposure to these challenges and a sense of what it feels like to be a wounded patient in the hands of a military doctor.
But Stede said the FTX and preparations also provide the doctors-in-training a glimpse into how their fellow military members operate and the physical and mental challenges they face. "It helps give them an understanding of the stressors of operating at the tactical level," he said.
Meanwhile, he called the training a confidence builder that helps the students meld as a team and pressed them in ways they may have never experienced.
"For some people, the training today and in the field is the hardest thing they have ever done," he said. "It's taking them away from the comfort of the black and white of academics, and challenging them."
Some of the students admitted to a slight case of the jitters as they prepared to rappel off the university's administration building. They looked on as Army Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Wilson, operations noncommissioned officer for the university, explained how to tie a Swiss seat climbing harness and checked each student to make sure they'd gotten it right.
"I love my job. I love teaching," said Wilson, the rappel master for the exercise. An Army medic, he served three deployments to Iraq and said he understands exactly what the students will bring to the force and fleet. "These are the doctors of tomorrow, the young lieutenants who will be our future doctors and leaders," he said.
Air Force 2nd Lt. John Richardson, one of the prior-service students at the university, said he, too, understands the importance of his calling. He spent two years as a Marine Corps infantryman, then nine years as an Army search-and-rescue pilot. Now he's training to be an Air Force doctor, inspired by the dedication of the military doctors he has known.
Richardson said he can't wait to take his Uniformed Services University education to the field. "I love serving soldiers," he said. "I joined the military and came to USUHS for a reason."
At the university, he's drawing on his military experience as a class platoon leader to help teach his fellow students combat skills.
"Left hand! Break hand! Air assault!" Army 2nd Lt. Vanessa Hannick yelled out as Wilson made a safety check on her Swiss seat. She bounded to the roof of the university's administration building, then took a tentative first step before beginning her 63-foot descent.
As Hannick strived to keep her body in a tight "L" position, her classmates below cheered her on with hoots and hollers.
Navy Ensign Alison Lane said it's this supportive attitude so prevalent at the university that led her to choose it over a civilian medical school. "It's what really sold me when I was interviewing at the school," she said. "It's not all about competition. It's about being part of a team."
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